Remembering Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, the self-made star

Ashraf Gharib, Friday 28 Jun 2019

Born 4 June in 1946, Mahmoud Abdelaziz died three years ago, leaving a legacy that he carved for himself under harsh circumstances

mahmoud Abdelaziz
Mahmoud Abdelaziz

Stardom is measured by the number of remarkable roles played by this or that actor. It's enough to mention Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz's brilliance in the famous espionage TV series, Raafat Al-Haggan, and the sense of belongingness and national pride it evoked towards our homeland.


It's enough to mention the man's presence in the character of Al-Sheikh Hosni, the protagonist of The Kit Kat, and the charisma of a man that leaves you undecided whether you’re with him or against him. It's enough to mention the character of Mansour Bahgat, the protagonist in The Magician, who created happiness wherever he goes.


Despite all this, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz's left a wide artistic legacy, which extended for forty-two years carved under harsh circumstances. Thus, he attained this stature that befits a star of his calibre. 


Nobody should think that Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, who was born in Alexandria in 4th June 1946, became a star in a blink of an eye or made his cinematic history overnight. It was a long path of hardship and struggle where he played diverse roles before having a firm stand in the silver screen and becoming one of its most prominent actors.


Fate has made Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz the last of his generation to appear on the silver screen.


The rest of his coevals preceded him by six or seven years. He started his artistic career in 1974 in the TV series The Whirlpool (Nour El-Demerdash) and on the silver screen in The Grandson (1975, Atef Salem). Nour El-Sherif has started his career in 1967 in Palace of Desires, and by the year 1973 acted in thirty five films while Mahmoud Yassin, who debuted in Three Stories (1968, Ibrahim El-Sahn), has acted in twenty two films. As for the third member of the preceding trio, Hussein Fahmy debuted with Dalal The Egyptian (1969, Hassan Al-Imam), acting in fifteen films afterwards.


Hence, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz needed more time in order to find a place for himself in the map of Egyptian cinema in spite of the big opportunity his discoverer, the great producer Ramses Naguib, has given to him when he made Star Forever (1975, Ashraf Fahmy).


This wasn't Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz's only problem at his early beginnings. Finding his screen persona was definitely more important than the number of films in which he participated in. He realised that he was in an unenviable situation for his handsomeness ran in competition with that of Hussein Fahmy. His romantic side rivalled that of Mahmoud Yassin's, and his verve collided with Nour El-Sherif's.


What was this young actor supposed to do? This also had an impact on the chances of this Alexandrian youth who was full of big dreams of acting. Perhaps this may explain the pale roles in which Abdel-Aziz participated in, such as My Daughter and the Wolf (1977, Sayed Tantawi) The Sweet Lying Girl (1977, Zaki Saleh) and Shame on Lulu (1978, Sayed Tantawi). At the same time, Abdel-Aziz acted in some important films like The Sad Night-Bird (1977, Yehia El-Alamy), The Wild Girl (1977, Samir Seif) and Shafiqa and Metwalli (1978, Ali Badrkhan).


Fate has once again put Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz in another trial when the aforementioned roles began to pave a way for his artistic stability. Ahmed Zaki, who was a coeval, had established himself as an actor with a very special presence while Adel Imam monopolised the superstar title since the early 80's. This was another obstacle that Abdel-Aziz had to face, which makes him one of the most suffering actors in achieving stardom in the last half century.


However, his fortunes was reversed when he co-starred in The Disgrace (1982, Ali Abdel-Khaleq) followed by his shocking role as an extreme villain the following year in the TV series The Man and the Unknown along with the veteran actress Madiha Youssri. His acting talents were acknowledged and weren't confined to any special kind of role. He also had a special inclination towards comic roles.


These capabilities, which were ignited by director Ali Abdel-Khaleq in The Disgrace, were asserted in The Addictive Habit (1985) and Breathless Race (1987, both Ali Abdel-Khaleq). Both films were so successful that the audience used to repeat many of the one liners Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz uttered. This ushered in a new phase between him and the audience which he truly missed since his debut.


Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz continued to be one of the brilliant actors heading towards stardom like his rivals; one time he made advances, and other times they outrun him. This was until 1987 which witnessed his biggest leap and moved him from just a competitor to the first rival and probably the only rival to Adel Imam. It was the stage of parity between the two superstars which remained until the end of the twentieth century. Perhaps it was responsible to a great extent for this special stature that Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz enjoyed until his death.


In that year, the TV series Raafat Al-Haggan was aired. It was the most important Arab TV series ever. Not only for its artistic worth, but also for its nationalist resonance. Through it, Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz gained unprecedented staggering success never attained by an actor before. It cemented his superstardom and gave him a deserved status at the forefront.


A number of factors made Raafat Al-Haggan attain an absolutely astonishing success. The most significant of those factors was the nationalist nature of series within an espionage setting. Another factor was the span of the series which comprised three parts and continued for five years. There was also the exceptional publicity the series benefitted from as well as the state of artistic brilliance in which Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz portrayed the most famous Egyptian real-life secret agent.


All those combined factors catapulted Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz towards stardom where his salary increased and film offers poured in. However, to say the truth, it was probable that all this could have been lost and such success be incidental if Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz didn't enjoy real talent and also more importantly his ability to choose wisely the roles that cemented this talent.


Within this frame, we can perceive the character of Sheikh Hosny the protagonist in The Kit Kat (1991, Daoud Abdel-Sayed) which was adapted from Ibrahim Aslan's novel The Heron. This character combined wandering and mysticism within a fascinating human texture; its surface is comic while its deep core built on contemplation. The same goes for his inclination for fantasy films with director Raafat El-Meehy in the films: Hotchpotch (1988) The Gentlemen (1987) Ladies and Misses (1989).


He also acted in films that made the audience smile while urging them to think such as in Gallimaufry (1994, Medhat Al-Sibai), Why the Sea is laughing (1998, Mohamed Kamil Al-Qalyubi), The Captain (1997, Sayed Said) and The Magician (2001, Radwan El-Kashef). The Magician had stuck to Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz forever.


Even when he played the character of Abdel-Malek Zarzour in Ibrahim Al-Abyed (2009, Marwan Hamed), he blended violence with cunningness benefitting from decades of experience. He was attempting to pave a new path for himself.


This was a new cinema that didn’t warm to romanticism which he began his career with or to comedy which he was inclined to perform but to things coming from streets of bloodiness and thuggery, even if it was shrouded with wisdom and maturity. Maybe this realistic outlook drove him and actors belonging to the same generation to move to TV drama in his final years.


Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz started as a soft lover and ended as a bloody violent thug and between love and violence he threw his sweet laugh throughout his cinematic career. However, whether he was romantic, comedic or hot tempered, this man knew how to choose his characters from the heart of the Egyptian society which he knew well. He died in 12th November 2016 after a struggle with cancer.


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